My wife and I recently watched the award winning Whiplash. It is a phenomenal movie and stirred something in me. I found at times that I was holding my breath and my heart was racing. I watched a few scenes over again and had the same effect (you can watch one of my favorite scenes at the end of this review). If you’re going to watch it, though, know that the language is raw and graphic – clearly a reason the movie is rated-R. After making a comment about the movie on social media, my dad, Paul Linzey, mentioned that he and my mom had also recently watched it. Then I had a great idea: Why don’t I co-write a review with my dad, looking at some of the themes of the movie from a biblical perspective? So today’s review is actually from an ongoing email conversation he and I have been having over the past couple days. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and hope you find some value in it. 🙂
Chris: I’d like to kick off with the theme of relationships since I’m doing this with my you. There are three primary relationships I can identify in the movie:
– Andrew and his dad
– Andrew and his girlfriend
– Andrew and Fletcher
I think it’s pretty clear that Andrew’s relationship with Fletcher overrides the others. Here’s what I find interesting, though. While the girlfriend moves on and finds someone else, the dad is constant throughout Andrew’s ups and downs. They go to movies together. Dad stocks Andrew’s apartment with snacks. When the lawyer is trying to convince Andrew to testify against Fletcher, Andrew asks his dad, “Why are you here?” Dad’s response? “Don’t you know there’s nothing in the world I love more than you?” Even when Andrew returns to play with Fletcher for JVC after both had been kicked out of the conservatory, his dad was at the performance and ran backstage to hug the son in his most embarrassing moment. I’m very much reminded of the father in the Prodigal Son story. No matter what the son did, the dad is still there to throw his arms around his son and proclaim his love.
Paul: Yeah, the relationships are a powerful part of the story. And at times they’re pretty painful. Like in the scene at the family dinner table. It’s obvious the whole family is so proud of the football star and totally unimpressed with Andrew’s musical ambitions. You can feel his pain and anger when he points out that the football player is merely at a Division III college. In other words, it’s not worth bragging about. But nobody gets it, and Andrew is still considered the oddball whose goals and values are meaningless. But you’re right about the dad’s loyalty. Even though he didn’t understand his son, he was always there, like you pointed out. There’s a verse in the Bible that says
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he grows up he will not stray from it.”
Some commentators point out that the terminology in the text is farm language, agricultural terms, specifically having to do with shaping and growing trees. If this is so, they believe the point of the verse is that good parents will find out their child’s interests, callings, and personality and adjust their parenting methods to bring out the best in the child – to help the child discover his or her direction in life. It’s not telling parents to make sure they raise the child the way they want the child to turn out. There’s more to parenting than that. It’s an art. It requires diligence, attention, getting to know the child intimately. It calls for relationship patterns that allow the child to explore and experiment. And the wise parent guides the child in the process of becoming. I didn’t see Andrew’s family fostering this kind of emotional-psychological freedom to be. We typically use that verse to tell parents how to raise their kids, and to tell our kids what we want them to do. Very controlling, very heavy-handed, very condescending. But maybe it was actually designed to liberate parents and liberate children, freeing all of us to discern what the Lord might want us to do, and to become. And then support each other in that process.
Chris: Let’s talk for a second about Andrew’s intense desire to be the best. In one scene, he tells his girlfriend, “I want to be great.” She responds, “You’re not great?” He comes back, “I want to be one of THE greats.”
Paul: Why are people who excel in almost any field edgy, quirky, OK — weird? Do we have to be so intensely focused and driven in order to be the best? Is it even possible to be “normal” and still be the best in the world at something? It’s true that in order to succeed, we have to make sacrifices. We have to prioritize. But is there a limit to how far we should go?
Chris: I was really pondering this one. I had a friend some years back who thought that all competition was contrary to Christ-like behavior. I’m not inclined to go that far, but I see his point. When you hear Jesus using expressions like “servant of all,” “the last shall be first,” and “the least of these,” it’s easy to see that Jesus has a heart for the underdog. The question is, “How far do Jesus’s teachings call us to care for the underdog vs. how far do Jesus’s teachings call us to BE the underdog?” I’m don’t think Jesus is calling us to eschew success, but there needs to be a healthy balance between success and humility, and my personal opinion is that such humility prevents us from ever achieving the status as “best in the world.”
Paul: It seems clear biblically that the Church will be the underdog societally, especially as we move towards the Eschaton. It’s also true, if I understand James 1:27 correctly, that we are called to care for the underdog. And it is true that we are called to be servants of all. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are called to be underdogs, impoverished, or less than the best in our chosen vocation. To follow that logic, each of us would need to be orphaned and widowed to truly be Christian. But that is clearly not the case. Jesus told at least one person that he would need to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, but there were quite a few other rich people he did not tell that to. In fact, there were some wealthy folks who supported him and his disciples so they could do the work of the Kingdom. Same with Paul and his ministry team. I don’t think humility per se is contrary to being the best. Many would agree that Moses would be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. Yet Numbers 12:3 specifically says he was the most humble man in all the earth. I think you and I would agree that Jesus was the greatest person of all time. Yet, he was humble, according to Philippians chapter 2. And St. Paul was a pretty impressive apostle. Perhaps the best? Yet he displayed some impressive humility. Perhaps understanding of the word “meek” can be helpful here: “Power or greatness under control.” So I don’t believe that humility ought to prevent a Christian from being the best at what he or she hopes to achieve in life, whether as a musician, an athlete, a teacher, a pastor, a plumber, or anything else. In fact, the Bible says,
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
Don’t we usually understand that to mean “do your best”?
Chris: I don’t think humility NECESSARILY prevents us from greatness, only when pursuing greatness requires trampling on others.
Paul: Absolutely. I agree. And this is what we see happening in Whiplash. People trampling all over each other. Dog eat dog. Get mine. do what it takes to self-promote. I guess you could say Osteen’s teaching applied to the music industry. It’s all about you.
Chris: BWAHAHAHA! Joel Osteen applied to the music industry – now that.is.funny. Making sure that “I get mine” regardless of how it affects others flies right in the face of biblical principles:
Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them (The Golden Rule) Matthew 7:12
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Switching gears again, how did you guys respond to the language? It was incredibly harsh.
Paul: The profanity was indeed overwhelming. But we knew going in that the main reason for it’s R rating was raw language. More importantly, however, being in the world means we rub elbows with real people, real heathens, real scoundrels. We’re called to be in the world, though not “of” the world. Jesus didn’t avoid sinners. That included prostitutes, tax collectors, and cussers. Besides, there’s not a single word or phrase in the movie that I haven’t heard in the Army . . . . . . . or in the church! An aspect of human existence that I thought the movie showed pretty well was that every one of us has our own pain, our own problems, and our disillusionments. This was true of just about every character in the show. Would you comment on that?
Chris: You hit the nail on the head. The director has even said he approaches life from a dark place and I think the characters reflected that. But each gets so caught up in his own trouble he fails to find the relief that can be found in community. It’s the attitude that greatness only comes through suffering and, while there may be some truth to that, authentic relationships can help heal wounds.
Paul: And that’s where art and the gospel begin to intersect.
Chris: Thanks, Dad.
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As always I welcome your thoughts and opinions. did you see the movie? What did you think?